In the latest of our ongoing media entrepreneur series, we highlight the work of Kelly McGillivray, managing director and squadron leader of theSQUAD Creative Events.
With the events industry being hard it by the Covid-19 pandemic, she recently realigned the business to encompass design, internal communications, billboards, video, radio and more. “We are multi-media in that we do everything, not just relating to events.”
Why did you decide to branch out with your own business/venture, rather than work for other companies or corporates?
I worked at Blue Moon Corporate Communications for 17 years and they were incredible to me, through my good times and a lot of bad times. I was doing well but still only just managing to scrape through and pay bills. I asked my Mom how I was ever going to generate some wealth for my kids, and she suggested that we crunch some numbers and see if I would be able to go out on my own.
I was terrified of the idea because I did not have any security and no guarantee that it would work – so my mother who, ran her own advertising agency, offered to cover my salary for six months. The transition to entrepreneurship was about building something for me and my children as a single mother to leave a legacy and to create jobs and something that belonged to me!
Give us a brief history of your media venture? What gave you the idea? How did it begin, and how has your business journey unfolded?
I wanted it to be about precision and team work – so we came up with the name theSQUAD Creative Events, “a small number of soldiers assembled for drill or assigned to a special task”, but a creative one! It started off as little old me sitting in my own office at my mother’s advertising agency and slowly we expanded when I started to get busy, we grew to seven permanent staff members, but have subsequently downscaled.
We now do everything, but we started out in events and began to diversify into media by incorporating design, internal communications, billboards, video, radio and more. We are multi-media in that we do everything, not just relating to events.
As a result of Covid-19 you have ‘pivoted’ your business. How has it changed and why did you take the decision?
Luckily we had downscaled just before this all hit, finances were getting tight and the market had tightened up and the budgets had gotten smaller, we had to retrench and we had two resignations to move on to greener and different pastures – so our staff complement had reduced greatly.
We had also given notice at the premises that we were renting and sharing with One Lady and a Tribe Advertising Pty LTD, so we managed to cut down on overheads dramatically. We sent the staff home with their laptops and wi-fi units, and we waited to see what was going to happen. We moved our furniture and event elements into storage and converted my front entrance of my house into an office space. Now we work together Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and work from home on a Monday and Friday. We needed to do this to save costs, and staff salaries had been reduced to 80% so needed to be aware of travelling costs.
What challenges did you face as a media entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
Initially it was the fear of having to reinvent and the worry about making sure that I could keep paying my staff, we took out a SAFT loan that we have to pay back by 2025. Luckily the UIF helped as well.
Has there been a moment of success that has really stood out for you and that is your favourite on your journey? To what do you attribute your success?
When I left my last company I was warned that most companies fail after the first year and a half and reminded that finances are not my strong point. I am proud to say that we are in our 7th year and even though I am not rich I have made an impact. I have employed people. I have had in excess of 30 interns coming through our company and we have been able to be creative with everything that we do – even the finances! We have made a plan and done it creatively. We are problem solvers and events people have a can do attitude – and that is what we believe – there is no such thing as can’t!
What characteristics do you think make a successful media entrepreneur?
Tenacity and building good and honest relationships, paying on time and being true to why you started – to be creative!
Your advice to young media entrepreneurs or those looking to start new media businesses?
Do it! Do it with heart, be brave and be true to yourself and surround yourself with like-minded people.
What, in your view, needs to happen to encourage more media entrepreneurs, and not just that, help them stay the course?
The big companies need to use the little ones, we are able to deliver and sometimes we are able to deliver faster than the big ones, because we are committed and hungry and we love a challenge
How do you ‘pay it forward’?
We give interns the opportunity to come and work with us for either three or six months, we give people opportunities and take the time to engage with new suppliers. During lockdown I decided to focus on doing something to help the homeless people I saw at the traffic lights and we started a feeding scheme in my neighborhood – this now an almost nightly event for up to 70 people. theSQUAD have also done the production and charity event for Night of 1000 Drawings for many years.
What quote or passage do you think encapsulates you and your approach to business and success?
“I am a marshmallow wrapped in a machine gun.”
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